Woolworths unveils ‘world-first’ wheelchair accessible checkout for staff living with disability

Woolworths has unveiled what it has described as a “world-first” new checkout innovation.

Originally published: 3 December 2023 on news.com.au

For Sydney university student Johnson Chen, working in retail was something he always wanted to do, but using a wheelchair ruled out most jobs for him.

But this week the 19-year-old worked his first shift at Woolworths — behind an innovative new accessible checkout, which he was involved in testing.

“I always wanted to work a retail job but it was always standing so it was something I couldn’t access,” the UTS computer science student told news.com.au.

Mr Chen was approached by his accessibility consultant at university to help test the prototype checkout for the Centre for Inclusive Design, and his feedback was incorporated into the final version.

“After testing the checkout, I asked how I could apply for a job,” he said. 

“Now I’m working here. I did training on Monday and Tuesday and my first shift was Wednesday. I’m getting kind of used to it now — just the fruit and veg I need to get used to how to scan items.”

Overall, he said he was loving the experience and interacting with customers, and is looking forward to making productive use of his uni holidays.

“Just experiencing a new environment outside my comfort zone,” he said.

“I’m very limited with my job options, with this new accessible register it gives me a new opportunity to learn more about the workforce and the community.”

Woolworths unveiled the new checkout, which it says is believed to be a world-first, at the opening of its Kellyville Grove store in northwest Sydney this week. 

The checkout, designed specifically for staff members living with a physical disability including people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids such as walkers, was created by the supermarket from scratch in consultation with the Centre for Inclusive Design and Mills Group, adapting it to feedback from people with disability to meet their varying needs.

Traditional check-outs pose a number of problems for staff members who use wheelchairs due to their height and the lack of space for a wheelchair to slide underneath the conveyor belt so the operator can easily scan groceries.

Features of the new accessible checkout include height adjustability, space for a wheelchair, a narrower conveyor belt so staff can easily reach all groceries from a seated position and a rotating bag transfer that allows the worker to spin the panel and send the packed bag down a gentle slope to the collection space, which avoids the need to heave, lift and reach.

It also includes a pull drawer so receipt paper can easily be refilled without reaching over, while keeping the receipt dispenser close to customers.

Woolworths says it developed the checkout to create new employment opportunities for people who use a wheelchair or live with other physical disabilities, and has already recruited several new team members to its Kellyville Grove store and its new North Parramatta store, which will also open with an accessible checkout next week.

Mr Chen, who cut the ribbon at the opening of the Kellyville Grove store on Wednesday, said it was “cool to see” it in action after being part of the design process.

Another new team member, Janine Jago, has taken the opportunity to work part-time now that her children have finished school and are more independent, using her customer service skills from her experience working for a bank prior to becoming a mother.

“We strongly believe that our team should represent the diverse community they serve, and the onus is on us to create more accessible jobs,” Woolworths managing director Natalie Davis said in a statement.

“While we’re always striving to provide opportunities for diverse team members, the reality is that until now there have been real physical barriers to people who use wheelchairs working in many retail spaces.”

Ms Davis said Woolworths “searched globally for an accessible checkout that we could bring to Australia for our team, and when we couldn’t find one out there, we were committed to creating it ourselves”.

“We are thrilled to be unveiling this new first-of-its-kind accessible checkout because we know it will also open up first-of-their-kind opportunities for wheelchair users to be part of our store checkout teams,” she said. “We are continuously looking to learn and challenge ourselves, to create a more inclusive workplace.”

Dr Manisha Amin, chief executive of the Centre for Inclusive Design CEO, said people with “lived experience” were involved in testing and designing the check-outs.

“It’s a terrific example of designing with, not for, people,” she said.

The Kellyville Grove and North Parramatta check-outs will form part of a pilot from which Woolworths will gather feedback with a view to rolling them out to additional stores. 

Woolworths has filed a provisional patent application with the Australian Patents office for the accessible checkout.

This article originally published 3 December 2023 on the news.com.au website. The article was written by senior reporter, Frank Chung. Image credit for featured image on homepage: Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths.